What I Read in July 2016

Another kind of lacking month from me. I just haven’t been reading as much as I usually do lately. I think I can still get back on track over the last half of this year, but I am way off my pace right now. Still, I got three books in July, which isn’t too bad, and I have a handful of one that I half finished. Hopefully I can get those done by the end of August and boost my numbers a little bit. I also meant to read more nonfiction this year, and I haven’t really done that, so I am going to make a concerted effort to fix that as well.

hardrev

Hard Revolution

George Pelecanos

I read The Sweet Forever from Pelecanos a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Since then the rest of his books have been on my long list of things to read and I happened upon a paperback copy of Hard Revolution. If anything I liked it more than The Sweet Forever, though I don’t recall the book perfectly.

Set in 1968, Hard Revolution takes place in DC around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the reaction to that. The fractured and tense nature of race relations in the city and the country provide the backdrop and backbone for this story. It follows a pair of police officers, the young black officer Derek Strange and veteran officer Frank Vaughn, as they investigate the murder of a couple of young black men, one of them Strange’s brother. At the same time, two separate groups are planning robberies. One group wants to knock off a convenience store; the other a bank. The book takes a long time to set its pieces in place, but that is largely where it is most effective. Pelecanons is terrific at setting and tone. Tons of period detail, largely stuff about local sports and music, helps ground the work in its time and place. What car a character drives and what music the listen to tell the reader important things about those characters. It doesn’t sugar coat things, but presents the times with their warts all apparent.

I know that Strange is the protagonist of other such novels, so I am not surprised that his story is not complete here, but while he is certainly an interesting protagonist, he doesn’t actually get that much to do. All the time on the set up, set up for a half dozen characters that have major roles in this story, leaves very little for the police work side of the story. The balance between committing the crime and solving the crime are unequal. It left me wanting to know more about Strange, but not feeling like I knew enough about him for a story where his personal relationships should very important. It is also a very dark tale. It all comes together with the death of MLK with things looking bleak for just about everyone involved. Other than some minor quibbles, I liked this book a lot. The set up stuff that dominates the book is its best stuff. It creates, or maybe recreates, a world where each character’s history almost makes their actions inevitable.

fbf

Followed By Frost

Charlie N Holmberg

I enjoyed Charlie N Holmberg’s delightful if slight Paper Magician trilogy, so I went ahead and picked up this book by her. It is largely more of the same which is largely a good thing. It is a little rough getting its premise set up, but once protagonist Smitha is cursed and sets out on her odyssey it really hits its stride.

Smitha is a selfish brat in the way that many teenagers are, perhaps a little worse. She is in desperate need of some growing up. Unfortunately, Followed by Frost hits something of a sour note in forcing that growth. When a local young man proposes marriage to her despite her making it clear she wasn’t interested, she sets up down hard. Too bad it turns out that he is wizard and curses her to have her whole body be as cold as her heart. It is going for a fairy tale sort of opening, but placing this blame on Smitha is a backwards way of looking at what is more the wizards awkwardness and inability to handle rejection. She was undoubtedly mean, but the punishment completely outsized compared to the crime.

Fortunately, it really picks up once Smitha is cursed. She first flees to the north, but the unnatural cold that follows her makes it impossible for her to live with other people. The cold is so bad that she is hunted. Eventually, she finds a way to make her curse useful and finds romance in the doing. From there on it becomes a full on romance. That fairy tale feeling from the beginning holds throughout the book. It is an effective way to frame this story, which sees Smitha grow from a spoiled young girl to a thoughtful woman. While the wizard who placed the curse on her disappears completely after the curse, Smitha’s interactions with Death, brought to her by the curse, are much better. Aside from the mixed message about gender relations, Followed by Frost is a pretty great fantasy romance.

nemesis

Nemesis

Agatha Christie

This one felt like a big change from the other Miss Marple stories that I read, mostly because Marple is a major player throughout the book. In the previous handful of Marple books, she has been more of a goad to get the investigators on the right track or even just a deus ex machina to come in at the end with a solved mystery. This time she is actively investigating. The whole thing is a little contrived, though. I realize that is the point of a lot of the book, that Miss Marple is acting on a strange deathbed request from an acquaintance, but there are other parts that don’t make sense either. Like how she ends up staying where she does, put up by people who don’t know her and have secrets to hide. While I did like having a more active Miss Marple, her actually being the focal character of the book, but mystery wasn’t Christie’s best. The only way it keeps up for the length of the book is by having no one know what mystery is being investigated for nearly the first half. I guess that has its own sort of appeal as a mystery, but to me Nemesis didn’t quite work.

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